Closed minds are like houses shut up for the winter only to find that their owners are never returning. They become dusty, dark, places of foreboding and creepy crawlies. You have to break in from the outside to lever off hinges on doors or windows to let some light in. Well, it may be an overplayed analogy but it represents my feelings of utter dismay when it comes to discussing serious issues of life with Ghanaians brought up in villages in an educational system that sometimes makes creationism look like a liberal intellectualâ€™s dream philosophy.
Coming out of DVLA in Accra the other day, refusing to pay a bribe to go to the front of the queue, a young Muslim accosted me.
â€œIs that your wife?â€
â€œNo. Fanti.â€ (A coastal tribe in Ghana.)
â€œShe is white.â€
â€œYes, but her twin is black.â€
â€œGod is wise and works miracles.â€
â€œNo. It is called biology.â€
â€œYou are a Christian?â€
â€œNo. I do not believe in God.â€
â€œYou have a long way to go.â€
â€œI have been further than you will ever travel. There is no God.â€
â€œGod makes everything, sees everything, even the smallest thing.â€
â€œYou pay bribes?â€
â€œIt is how things are done.â€
It comes to my mind that in this Ghanaian world, where corruption is endemic, praying to God and giving your weekly tithe, is just another form of bribery.
A young man, who has progressed from illiteracy to being a photographer and user of Photoshop in five years tells me that in Ghana you must be whipped if you are late or absent from school. He was. (And left it, illiterate, as I said.) There is no other way. There is no tie up to the Christian principles of love thy neighbour or parables about lost sheep. Nor can their be any open discussion with the teacher or the priest about the foundations of thought and belief.
Earlier blogs give accounts of mandatory prayers at medical conferences introducing drug company reps with their latest spiel on the efficacy of innovative compounds, at new bank launches or before politiciansâ€™ speeches at the hustings. To deny God in Ghana is to invite anything from rib-tickled disbelief to aggression. The notion of having a critical consciousness about ALL things is not on the table. Churches rule daily social lives. The only learning they vouchsafe comes from within the tight parameters of the bible. The same young man, mentioned above, talks about â€œWhen the white man brought the book …â€ as the point of change for the better in Ghanaians lives, though he has no idea what life was like before the missionaries. Looking at Ghanaâ€™s remarkable, world-beating GNP, little of it is percolating down to the poor from its religion-embracing Ministers of State. Meanwhile, the poor pray for miracles to change their living conditions because it is in Godâ€™s hands. The illusion of Heaven drives all religions alike. Everything will one day be wonderful, you will find yourself at Godâ€™s feet, serving His will. Meanwhile, just suffer with good grace.
The adherents of the worldâ€™s religions here steal as much as they bribe. It is occupational. Gangs come and disconnect your electricity at night and come to put it on again in the morning, at a price. Kilometres of cabling are stolen regularly leading to blackouts. All the countryâ€™s essential services are regularly â€˜choppedâ€™ by staff wanting backhanders to do normal work, selling equipment taken illegally from central stores, demanding bribes for releasing imported materials and so on. The same folks invariably go to church on Sundays for their various forms of absolution, their prayers for consumer items, their hopes for the future. They see little inconsistency in week long criminality and Sunday holiness.
Before you think this is a rant from some racist outsider, please take stock of other blogs I have written. I (as a long time educationalist) see the blame for Ghanaâ€™s troubles at least partially at the door of religions. They breed closed minds with absurd certainties and they (as they have done through time immemorial) keep the poor in its place. While religious institutions exhorted their followers to enjoy a peaceful presidential election recently, one canâ€™t help thinking that their real concern was the status quo, their hold on the purse strings of the poor.
For other writing: